Computers, bikes and things I’d like to remember.

XVI Brazilian Congress on Archival Science (Day Four and home)

October 1st, 2010 Posted in General

Beach front garden

I decided that on the final day of the conference I would take some time out of the hotel to try to visit the cultural district in ‘downtown’ Santos on the other side of the island. Since I was up early, I walked down the road to take another look at the beach and the flowers of the beach front garden (above). Then I returned to the hotel and caught a taxi across Santos.

Taxis in Santos all appear to be small four cylinder, four door cars with manual transmissions - quite unlike the large six cylinder automatic cars used across most of Australia. The driver and I managed to surmount the language barrier so we set off to the coffee museum. Once he realised that I was a foreigner, he put two and two together and concluded that at some point I would need to get to the airport 80km away so he enthusiastically pressed his business card on me. I didn’t need to understand Portuguese to know that he wanted a call to get that job. Unfortunately for him, my hosts had a driver arranged for my return journey but I had no way of explaining that so I smiled and pocketed the card.

The coffee museum is nestled in the cobbled streets of the oldest part of Santos, adjacent to the docks. I had been looking forward to this visit and as a cultural centre it didn’t disappoint, though as a museum it’s clearly underfunded compared with what I’m used to seeing. Armed with my trusty camera phone, I wandered around the building being impressed by my surroundings.

Coffee museum trading floor

The centrepiece of the museum is the trading floor where the buying and selling of bulk coffee was done. The beautiful wood and leather furniture is in good condition and a spectacular stained glass skylight illuminates the place.

Stained glass skylight

After looking through the whole museum, I took myself to their cafe with great anticipation. This would surely be the pinnacle of coffee experiences. I ordered from their English language menu and sat back to await coffee perfection. I didn’t need to wait long but the experience was rather disappointing. The coffee I can buy at home is far nicer. Maybe they export all the good stuff?

Avenue of coffee shops

Opposite the coffee museum is an avenue (above) completely populated by coffee shops. In retrospect I think that I should have selected one of them for my essential Brazil coffee experience. If I ever get back there, that’s what I’ll do.

Leaving the coffee district, I set off to walk through the downtown area in search of interesting things. Many of the old buildings feature beautiful architecture including plenty of stained glass. My problem was that having no local language, I couldn’t tell what was a gallery or museum and what was an office. I stepped into one particularly historic looking building to admire its stained glass, only to find myself in an accountant’s office.

Sticking up above Santos is the mini mountain of Monte Serrat. I’d heard that the view from the top was worthwhile so I set out to find my way up there. This brought me to the Funicular station.

Monte Serrat Funicular

The Funicular is a balanced cable car system where one car is pulled up on a cable while another is lowered as a counterbalance. This creates something like a very slow train capable of climbing up and down the very steep slope of the hill. It’s a great tourist attraction and has apparently been one since the early 20th century. I bought a ticket and having just missed a departure, waited half an hour until I was hauled to the top. The view from the top has the potential to be spectacular, but the ever present smog meant that there was almost no view at all. I used the half hour before the Funicular’s next trip to walk all over the top of the hill in search of views, and climbed to the highest point of the Funicular building, but mostly what I saw was smog and this communications tower.

Communications tower

Looking at all of those dishes from just a few metres away had me wondering just how much RF I was being soaked in. I got the feeling that concepts of occupational health and safety aren’t taken quite as seriously in Brazil as they are in Australia, so I hastened to get away from the radio tower.

Hot and sweaty and with the morning almost over, I caught a taxi back to the hotel for a shower, a change and a return to the conference.

The highlight of the afternoon session for me was Professor Tom Nesmith’s discussion of the ‘Archival Society’ in which he contends that society as a whole has not embraced the importance of archives as an asset for national development. As an educator, Professor Nesmith is interested in finding ways to improve the skills of archivists not just in the technical aspects of the profession, but in making themselves relevant to and recognised by society.

As proceedings drew to a close, the organisers summoned all of the speakers for a group photograph.

Conference speakers

With the conference over, everyone relaxed and started planning a celebratory dinner to finish things off. While this was going on, my host drew me aside and informed me that my driver would meet me in the hotel lobby at 3:00am for the trip to the airport. I was somewhat taken aback. Three o’clock in the morning? Any plans for a night out evaporated right then and there. I spent 10 minutes saying goodbye to people then returned to my room to pack up and get an early night.

Sure enough, at 3:00am the driver was waiting in the lobby. This time I had only a driver and no translator. The driver spoke no English, but this didn’t stop him helpfully pointing out places of interest as we left Santos. Fortunately my few days in town had given me enough familiarity with Santos to mostly know the places he was pointing to. What did disturb me though was the lack of headlights. As we set off into the darkness with little or no street lighting, I found I couldn’t see the road ahead. I couldn’t see because the headlights were not switched on. I tried to discuss this with my driver, but none of the words I could think of for ‘light’ or ’see’ came close enough to their Portuguese equivalents for him to understand me. I think he thought I was nuts. It turns out that within city limits most people just use parking lights and save their headlights for the open road.

Then we approached, in the darkness, our first red traffic light. And we didn’t stop. This was becoming rather disturbing. Red lights would sometimes convince him to slow a little, but never would he stop. I later found that this is a strategy employed after dark to avoid car jacking. Great.

We made it to Guarulhos airport with plenty of time to spare and as I checked in, the British Airways staffer apologised and told me that my 7:00am flight would be delayed about 45 minutes. Unconcerned, I passed through security screening and passport control to find a seat in a gate lounge to sit and read for a few hours and watch the sunrise. In an unfortunate reversal of the usual, the coming of daylight didn’t make it easier to see outside because daybreak coincided with the arrival of the fog.

Guarulhos airport in the fog

The airport was immediately closed to take offs or landings and a long, confused and chaotic delay began. The 45 minute delay tuned into 2 hours, then 3 hours and eventually almost 5 hours. Once the fog lifted, aircraft started to arrive and very soon all of the terminal slots were full. Planes were parked all over the airport and along with hundreds of others, I was moved to a packed holding area to catch a bus across the tarmac to a waiting 747.

Airport chaos

We finally left Guarulhos for Buenos Aires but I knew that I had already missed my Qantas flight to Sydney by several hours. At Buenos Aires I was hustled across the airport with a handful of other passengers and squeezed onto a packed Chilean LAN flight to Santiago in Chile. The diversion would mean that instead to arriving home on Sunday night I’d be back at Monday lunch time but the payoff was a good chance to see the Andes up close as we flew along them to Santiago. At Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago I had a 6 hour delay before boarding another LAN flight - this time to Auckland. I spent much of the time trying to get a message back home to say I’d been delayed. After failing to get my mobile or the public telephones to work, I looked for wireless internet access. I finally found it in the Pacific Lounge where I also found drinks and snacks, all for about seven dollars.

We left for Auckland at about midnight and flew through darkness for 13 hours. I was again wedged into a little economy class seat, but this time with a window. The seat-back entertainment system had a fine selection of movies but the audio on mine was broken so it wasn’t much use. I wasn’t very successful at sleeping so I spent much of the flight looking out of the window at stars.

In Auckland we had to disembark, get security scanned, then get back onto the same plane for the trip to Sydney. I begged for another seat to get some leg room and I was granted a very roomy emergency exit row with a perfectly functional entertainment system. Yay!

It was no surprise in Sydney to find that my luggage had not traversed the airport in Buenos Aires as quickly as I had, but it was almost a bonus because I didn’t have to muscle it through customs or check it back into Qantas domestic for the flight to Canberra. On the ground again I’d managed to take 44 1/2 hours to get from my hotel in Santos to home in Canberra.

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